Saturday 17 November 2018

Do we really need a Breaking Bad film?

Planned two hour spin off feels like an afterthought, writes Pat Stacey

Breaking Bad
Breaking Bad

Pat Stacey

Oh, no. No, no, no, no, no, and an extra “no” just for good measure. It emerged yesterday that Vince Gilligan is planning a movie spin-off of Breaking Bad.

More than planning it, actually; it’s due to go into production in mid-November — in other words, possibly as soon as next week.

If you think the announcement that there’s going to be a movie set in the Breaking Bad universe is an out-of-the-blue surprise that absolutely nobody saw coming, even more surprising is the fact that nobody really knows for sure what it’s going to be about, who’s going to be in it, and whether it’s a sequel, a prequel or something else entirely.

Also up in the air is whether “movie” means an old-fashioned feature film (you know, the ones you pay into a cinema to see) or a TV movie — which is no longer the byword for mediocrity it used to be back in the bad old days of formulaic episodic television.

Bryan Cranston as Walter White in Breaking Bad
Bryan Cranston as Walter White in Breaking Bad

That said, there are tiny morsels of information to digest. The film’s provisional title, which is not necessarily what it will end up being called, is ‘Greenbriar’.

Detailed research (otherwise known as 10 seconds spent checking Wikipedia) reveals greenbriar is a species of plant. Mind you, it’s also the name of a neighbourhood in Atlanta, Georgia, among other places, so basically it tells us absolutely nothing.

There is, however, what seems like a definite clue in the sliver of plot detail that’s been released.

According to the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, of course, being where Breaking Bad was filmed), the movie “tracks the escape of a kidnapped man and his quest for freedom”.

Meth lab: Walt and Jesse in cult TV classic Breaking Bad
Meth lab: Walt and Jesse in cult TV classic Breaking Bad

Straight off, this points a big neon arrow at Walter White’s sidekick Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), who was last seen in the Breaking Bad finale fleeing from a meth lab where he’d been held against his will.

Paul is due to join the cast for season three of Westworld, which begins shooting next March. Filming on the Breaking Bad spin-off movie is scheduled to wrap up in February, so the timing certainly fits the theory.

All well and good, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. For one thing, we already have a Breaking Bad spin-off, and a brilliant one, in Better Call Saul. The reason it works is because it’s so different to its parent series. It has a style and a tone that are completely unique, completely its own.

For another, Breaking Bad wrapped up its long story in a perfectly satisfactory fashion. If Gilligan felt he had more to say, he had plenty of time to say it first time around. One of the benefits of long-form television is the space it affords writers to explore characters and situations in a way they could never do in a two-hour film.

Vince Gilligan (Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)
Vince Gilligan (Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

And yet, a two-hour film is exactly what Gilligan is making. No matter how well it might turn out, it’s going to be difficult to think of it as anything other than an afterthought.

TV show movie spin-offs that can justify their existence on anything other than cynical commercial grounds are rare, but there are some examples. When outer space Western Firefly was cancelled after a single season, there was plenty of business left unfinished. Creator Joss Whedon wrapped it up with the well-received big-screen sequel Serendipity.

HBO’s Deadwood is another series that ended too soon, so the news that shooting has already begun on the long-gestating follow-up movie is to be welcomed.

It’s hard to be quite so enthusiastic about the news that Andrew Lincoln, having just stepped away from playing Rick Grimes in the exhausted The Walking Dead, will be returning as the character in three big-budget TV movies.

Still, you’d need to burrow right through the bottom of the barrel and then keep on digging before finding anything quite as awful as the nadir of the TV spin-off sub-genre, Sex and the City 2, which is the dumbest, shallowest, most obnoxious and objectionable piece of cinematic crap that’s ever squeezed its way out of Hollywood’s fundamental orifice.

Read more: Vince Gilligan penning Breaking Bad movie but will Walter White return?

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